Get Rich With… Geographical Arbitrage in Johor Bahru

Many New Yorkers have the option of staying or retiring in lower cost states like Colorado and Florida within their home country. Although this isn’t strictly applicable in Singapore (although I have to admit that food centre prices in some mature estates tend to be cheaper?), we do have the option of travelling to neghbouring countries where the purchasing power of our Singapore salaries can be drastically increased, to enjoy some of the “finer things” in life.

With the Singapore dollar appreciating strongly against the Malaysian Ringgit, it has breached the psychological mark of 2.5 RM to 1 SGD in recent months. Therefore, it’s not surprising that we are hearing more of Singaporeans driving to Johor Bahru to top up their petrol and also enjoy a seafood dinner with their loved ones.

But what if you don’t own a car like me? Is this geographical arbitrage opportunity not applicable to us then?


How I Get To JB

In fact, during my university days (not too long ago), I took SBS buses to Johor Bahru at least once a month. This was possible since I regularly had “free days”. This happened when my tutees cancelled their lessons with me and I had no tutorials in school beyond 11am. It also helped tremendously that Johor Bahru City Square, the mall that I visit, is located only a stone’s throw from the customs and immigration checkpoint.

Since I stayed in Bukit Panjang previously, it took me only slightly more than an hour to get to City Square Mall on a weekday (including time taken to clear the two immigration checkpoints) by public transport. Considering that it actually takes me longer to travel to another town in the East like Tampines, this was pretty amazing. Since moving to Punggol, Mrs 15 HWW and I have been to City Square Mall twice and the travel time by public transport has increased to almost an hour and half on weekday mornings. Still not too bad since travel expenses are less than 8 bucks in total and we have each other for company, eh? =p


On most trips, we would have two meals in CIty Square Mall since we always reach there by 1pm and then not leave until we have consumed our dinner. After the recent renovation of the mall, it really resembles a Singaporean mall with an increased variety of dining choices. Most of the popular joints like Nandos and Kenny Rogers remain pretty affordable and a set meal would usually be available for less than SGD$10/pax. I guess it’s fair to say that the prices we pay in some food courts in Singapore allow us to dine in restaurants just across the Causeway.

One restaurant we would always patronise is the Wong Kok Char Chan Teng which serves the pork chop cheese baked rice . Besides the main dish, the lunch set also comes with a bowl of soup, a generous glass of iced yuan yang and a fruit platter. This meal will likely set us back by more than $15++ per person if we had it in Singapore but in JB, it actually costs RM16.50 for the both of us. That’s more than a 50% discount!

It sometimes gets even better. During our last visit, we had dinner at Breeks and they were having a 1-for-1 promotion for selected sets. The results were mixed. The fish and chips was really good, the pasta was average at best and the mushroom soup was pretty inedible (too salty). But since we were not that hungry and we only paid $10 for the meal, it can still be regarded a steal.


Movies have been a rare treat ever since the first few months we started dating. With 3-D tickets costing as much as $26 for a couple, the cost-benefit analysis just doesn’t cut it. After all, one could easily catch it for free on TV a few years later or it might even be available in the library for borrowing after some time. However, since it costs less than $10 for the both of us in the new Cathay Cinema in JB, we decided to catch the recent Thor release.

And if you’re the kind that doesn’t trust barbers or neighbourhood salon hairdressers, there’s plenty of “brand name” salons to choose from in JB City Square. I counted that there’s at least 10? and it’s likely that you will receive the same quality in service at less than half the cost. (The Mrs will try them out one day.) There’s also a karaoke outlet at much cheaper prices if you’re planning a full day outing with a group of friends.

Groceries and household items

Even though the mall doesn’t have a hypermart, it is ably served by a small supermarket and a Watsons outlet. Yakult is about 30-40% cheaper and we would often buy a few packs back that will last for about a month. Non-perishable supplies like toothbrushes and toothpaste are also value-for-money and the savings even prompted us to purchase the expensive Colgate Optic White for a try.

To maximise the geopgraphical arbitrage, we would often buy some “atas” bread for the next couple of days’ breakfast before we head back home. Over here, I am benchmarking Lavender bakery with Breadtalk. More than fair since I prefer Lavender in a straight fight without any consideration for prices. And due to lower rental and labour costs, Lavendar is able to sell the breads at a price 30-40% lower than in Singapore.


Cost savings for the whole day spent in JB is a typical $30-$40 for each of us. This is really arbitrary since one could argue that we probably wouldn’t have gone to restaurants for both meals or even watched a movie had we not made the trip. But since most readers feel that we should loosen our belts as compared to tightening it further, let’s just say that we do pamper ourselves occasionally, but we still try to stretch our dollars by enjoying them in our neighbouring country.  😛


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8 thoughts on “Get Rich With… Geographical Arbitrage in Johor Bahru

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi SMOL,

      I am surprised! And glad that I can be some sort of catalyst for change. (Don’t know if it’s a good one though.)

      It’s really quite convenient to travel there these days, especially with that City Square mall. Relatively safe too (if that’s a concern) since you won’t even need to step onto the open streets at all.

  1. Spectra

    Staying in Yew Tee, I like to joke with my friends by saying that travel across to JB (City Square) is actually nearer than for me going to orchard. It does happened at times, especially if you take into consideration the snail speed MRT is moving currently.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Spectra,

      Guess my article has found kindred spirits for those staying in the North and North West. One “consolation” for staying far away from town and CBD.

  2. ylfoo

    Hi 15HWW,

    Have been following your posts mainly via Great posts so far and keep up the good work!

    Have been getting in and out into JB on weekly basis. As you mentioned, it is value for money to shop in there. Imagine the deeper value you can attain by shopping further from the CitySq Mall (i.e. Aeon, Justco Mall etc)

    And other than public buses and cars, you can try flying in as well (from Seletar Aiport to Senai Airport too 🙂

    Lastly have fun and keep up the good work in your blog!

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi ylfoo,

      Thanks for your kind words.

      Going to JB on a weekly basis is really pretty frequent! I have gone further in a couple of times but have to admit the value is marginal unless you buy alot? Moreover less convenient unless one is driving.

      Is flying in economical? Never thought of that before.

  3. Snoopy168

    Don’t deny that one can save $$$ in JB and even more if we move deeper.

    Only peeve is the transportation within. Without a car, I really find it difficult to zip beyond City Square , much worse that I have a whole lot of grocery to bring back.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi Snoopy 168,

      I have friends and relatives taking a cab to Justco or even deeper after clearing the customs. It’s possible but likely a bit more inconvenient?

      And then it really depends how much groceries you are bringing back. Could cut down on cheap but bulky items like toilet paper to make the load more manageable.